You know those times when, you swear, you’re really going to get into a rhythm, a schedule? For real this time, I’m going to start getting up on time. I’m going to start going to bed earlier. I’m going to…

Yeah. I’m in one. For the past several nights, my bedtime has been around midnight. Now, you normal people might say, “Yeah, and?” but in fact I can’t often do that anymore. Well, obviously, I can, but I don’t like to. It totally messes with me. So, after finishing a lovely DVD marathon of Boy Meets World Season 1, around midnight, I decided: yeah! This time I’ll do it! I’ll just force myself to get up early, suck it up, and..stuff! Yeah! I even meditated last night (this morning?).

I practice transcendental meditation (TM). TM is unlike other meditation methods in that I’m not forced to clear my mind. Because that’s ridiculous. Our brains work all the time. You can’t just turn it on and off, like a lightbulb. I’ve tried. TM, when you learn it, aims to let you be calm, to let thoughts pass in, and then pass out, and gradually penetrate that deep part of your brain that you almost never use (you don’t use most of it, actually). It relieves the stress (or attempts to) from the surface down. Several studies prove a number of things about it, most of which are positive. Better, less-stressed, more intellectual. All sorts of cool things I won’t bore you with. It’s just 20 minutes, twice a day, repeating a mantra over and over. The mantra is particular to each person, private, your own. I learned TM my senior year of college, and absolutely loved it. After several weeks of regular practice, I started getting at that deep part of myself. I’d repeat the mantra, everything would fade, and all of a sudden my timer would go off. Almost every day, many of us also went to the same space to meditate as a group. I got better meditations with other people and good energy in the room.

Balancing two majors, weekend nights as an EMT, a job at the library, and directing or managing several plays, I was somewhat relieved to be able to learn how to meditate. I was able to keep it up most of the summer, since I interned near home and not crazy hours. It slipped off, and now I rarely remember. And it’s not a save-all anytime: you don’t benefit from just a random session, here or there. So, every once in awhile, I think, Yeah! This time! Tomorrow! This week! On Monday!

This morning, my plan was to get up at 5:30, meditate, ease into the day, shower, make tea, heat up a home-made cinnamon roll for a sweet breakfast, and slide out, arriving at work by about 7.

This morning, in reality, consisted of approximately:

5:30 – hear music, see post-it note past-me had placed over the alarm time change buttons, feel the correct ones anyway, reset for 6am.

6:00 – hear music, see post-it note, reset for 6:15

6:15 – hear music, see post-it note, cringe, reset for 6:35

6:35 – hear music, see post-it note, reset for 6:50

6:50 – hear music, see post-it note, sigh, reset for 7:15

7:15 – hear music, see post-it note, reset for 7:30

7:30 – hear music, see post-it note, go to reset, and realize I have a meeting and have to actually get up this time; speed through a shower, put work back in bag, realize I have no time to actually make a lunch, make tea, grab rainjacket, run downstairs with shoes half pulled on.

So, you see my dilemma. Of course I was useless for the better part of the morning until the tea kicked in. I know what I need to do, I just have trouble doing it.

This time, really, I’ll do it. I’ll even set my alarm to reveille to have it blast me out of bed. I’m not military, but my summer camp used bugle songs as a sort of time-keeper, like bells in a school, and there were consequences for missing flag-raising. There wasn’t actually a lot of time between reveille and flag-raising, and the bathroom was always crowded. It was in your best interest to go, and be seen there on time.

I’m a dork, I know. It got me back, though: the other week I was riding the train with my iPod on shuffle, and wouldn’t you know but reveille came on and about scared me out of my seat. Go figure.

PS: please try not to spell “meditate” as “mediate.” They’re so not the same thing. <cough>news writers<cough>

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“Time to brush your teeth.”

“Can I get some water?”

I sighed. It was always something.

“Yes, but it has to be quick, okay? It’s time to get ready for bed.”

She nodded. We traipsed back downstairs. Ella helicoptered around me as I went to get her cup, and then turn on the tap. When the cup was about 2/3rds full, I stopped it and put the plastic sippy on top. Making sure it was on tight, I handed the cup down to her. Those big brown eyes stared up at me as she drank. Sluuuuuurp. Sluuuuuuurp. She occasionally came up for air: inhaling in a big way for such a small girl, she quickly returned to sucking on the square tip.

“Ahhh. All done!”

“Are you sure?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Positive?”

She nodded. I put the cup in the sink to deal with later and scooted her back upstairs. Bathroom.

Ella pulled out the stool and stood up on it. I forget how small I was, once. She reaches her whole arm out to get her toothbrush, and I help her get toothpaste on it. It’s hard to really call it “brushing,” but it’s better than nothing.

“I need to go potty.”

“Okay. I’ll be right outside, okay?”

The door closes awkwardly. I give it a few minutes, pace up and down the hall, check her room, get some matching pajamas out and lay them on her bed.

“Um, Sarah?” I hear from the door.

“Yes, Ella?”

“I need help.”

This was, I admit, one of the stranger parts of babysitting. I realize parents put the life of their child into my 14-year-old hands, but going to the bathroom feels too personal. What could she need help with? Then again, I’ve been successfully doing it on my own for years.

When the bathroom chores are out of the way, she carefully washes her hands and walks to her bedroom.

“Can I wear the stripe ones?”

“Why don’t you just wear these?”

“I want the stripe ones.”

“Okay,” I say, picking up the polka-dot pajama set off her bed. Stripes, tonight. I rummage in her top drawer to get them out. Finding both, I help her out of the rest of her clothes and into her pajamas. The head always makes me most nervous; it seems to always be the hardest hole for Ella to get through, and every other kid I’ve babysat. I toss her clothes into the laundry basket in the corner and help her into bed. Here comes the part I love and dread at the same time.

“Will you read?”

“Of course, Ella. What do you want?”

“The alligator one!”

“Get under the covers, okay?”

“You come too.”

“What?”

“Mommy always lies with me.”

“Oh. Yeah, let me get the book first, okay?”

She smiles. And how can you resist that? Still, this is why I dread it. It’s not the sleeping next to her, which I won’t actually do if I can help it, but it makes it awfully hard to sneak out without waking her. I settle in and she leans her head on my shoulder to see the pictures.

“Al the Alligator was an unusual alligator. He stood on two feet, and walked around, just like you and me. One day, he decided to visit his friend, Ollie the Ostrich…”

You know. One of those. I got through it, and closed the book.  “And that’s the end,” I whispered.

“Mm.” She nodded sleepily. A few seconds passed. “Can you read another one?” her tiny little voice said to me.

“Just one. I’ll be right back.”

A story about an alphabet family. Cute – and relatively easy to read. I’m always afraid I’ll get the beat wrong or not rhyme the right way. Silence. I slowly look to my left. Eyes: closed. She shifts down so her head can be totally on the pillow. But now, after a few times babysitting Ella, I know: it’s make or break time. One false move can change everything. And so, I wait. She breathes so peacefully, and I wish my sleep was so innocent. That nightmares involved green monsters and not friends or family. Also, that she’d wake up with boundless energy, again, ready for another fun day. Homework was increasingly leaving me sleep-deprived. I bounce these thoughts around, watching the small alarm clock. Sitting in absolute silence like this feels like an eternity. Finally, when I deem it’s been long enough, and her breathing pattern is a touch slower, a touch steadier, I prepare for my exit. This is a process.

An inch at a time, I roll down the covers on me, taking care not to move anything near her. I slide my knees up, gently slipping one foot dangerously close to the floor. It always creaks. I pause here, thinking it has been nearly too much. I wait another 30 seconds, and grip her nightstand for support. Cringing, I let my foot take most of my body. The other comes down, I slide the covers back on the bed, and pause again. I forget to breathe. I glance at Ella. Nothing yet. Tiptoeing, I pick up my shoes on the floor and get to the hallway. Gingerly, I close the door.

Exhale. The stairs are a little work, too, since they creak a lot, but I manage to dance down them and enter the living room. I pick up a random book and wait.

“Sarah?”